This won’t have done much to dissuade those families who lost loved ones on 9/11 and are preparing to picket the arrival of LIV Golf into the shadow of New York.
At the end of an uncomfortable press conference, when Paul Casey had tried to explain his journey from vocal critic of Saudi Arabia to the latest recruit of their breakaway tour, he was asked what he made of the protests.
The Englishman was happy to answer, amid accusations of ‘sportswashing’.
Paul Casey faced the media Wednesday ahead of his first LIV Golf tournament this weekend
The LIV event is being held at Trump National, close to New York – which has sparked protests
Casey said his heart went out to the victims… before he was cut off and whisked away for a photoshoot.
It had already grown rather awkward Wednesday morning, as golf’s latest LIV rebels described the epiphany that allowed them to reconcile defection with concerns over human rights and homophobia in Saudi Arabia.
England’s Casey recounted the tale of a teenage girl he met there this year, who spoke of how change had come, how doors had opened for her and her family and how she was even ‘looking forward to driving’.
Then came American Jason Kokrak. ‘I also got to play with that young girl,’ he said.
Alas, it turned out, after a brief conflab, to be someone else. That girl was only 15.
Remarkably, however, both teenagers proved very eloquent and convincing. Not on gay rights – neither player claimed to know enough to discuss the subject.
But on golf’s power to do good? Plenty.
9/11 Justice put out a television ad slamming the LIV Golf defectors for accepting Saudi cash
Casey, though, insisted at his press conference that ‘change is happening’ in Saudi Arabia
‘I’ve been to the Kingdom a couple of times… I can confidently say that change is happening and what we do is having a positive effect,’ said Casey, who makes his LIV Golf debut this week tournament at Donald Trump’s Bedminster course.
‘I played with a young girl in the pro-am at the Saudi Invitational earlier this year – 17-years-old, I played with her father and another lady who’s a human rights lawyer and they were brilliant company, entertaining and that young girl spoke of how things have changed and that just in the last couple of years – since she took up the game of golf – how things have radically changed for her and her family.’
It has been a dizzying turnaround for Casey, once a UNICEF ambassador who in 2019 claimed he would be a hypocrite to accept money to play in the Kingdom given their human rights record and the war in Yemen.
Before teeing it up at Trump National in this Saudi-funded tournament, the Englishman, 45 insisted: ‘It’s not where you’re at, it’s where you’re going.
‘There are many places on the planet that I’ve been to, that I’ve been paid to go to, which I’m not sure I can say the same thing… but I can honestly look you in the eye and say I see a positive trajectory in the Kingdom.’
Charles Howell III, Jason Kokrak and Casey (L-R) were whisked away after a 9/11 question
Former President Donald Trump has heaped praise on LIV as it heads to Bedminster this week
Casey said UNICEF previously encouraged him to visit Saudi Arabia and that his change of heart was not influenced by LIV Golf’s deep pockets. Instead, he said, the chance to spend more time with his family was decisive. Even if defection could spell the end of his Ryder Cup career.
Casey has represented Europe five times – and would love to do it again. That seems unlikely, however, with rebels expected to be banned. Deposed European captain Henrik Stenson is also making his debut this week and the Ryder Cup has rarely appeared more vulnerable.
Casey admitted it would be a ‘massive shame’ if the event became collateral damage in golf’s civil war.
But he accused the European Tour of moving the goalposts and said questions over how this mess will be resolved should be aimed at golf’s decision-makers – rather than players.
Phil Mickelson (pictured), Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau are also now LIV players
‘It seems as if the CEO (Keith Pelley) kind of has discretion, and so I think it’s a very fluid situation, very murky,’ he said.
‘The rules and decisions that are going to be put in place are out of my hands… right now we’re all in limbo, which is a bit frustrating.’
Casey added: ‘The players are not trying to damage the game. We leave this to those in charge of the Tour. In this case, with Mr. Pelley, Mr. Kinnings (Deputy CEO & Ryder Cup Director)… we’ve got a lot of questions, but right now they all seem to be coming our way, not his way.’